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Töllner, Thomas; Zehetleitner, Michael; Gramann, Klaus; Müller, Hermann J. (2011): Stimulus saliency modulates pre-attentive processing speed in human visual cortex.
In: PloS one 6(1), e16276




The notion of a saliency-based processing architecture [1] underlying human vision is central to a number of current theories of visual selective attention [e.g., 2]. On this view, focal-attention is guided by an overall-saliency map of the scene, which integrates (sums) signals from pre-attentive sensory feature-contrast computations (e.g., for color, motion, etc.). By linking the Posterior Contralateral Negativity (PCN) component to reaction time (RT) performance, we tested one specific prediction of such salience summation models: expedited shifts of focal-attention to targets with low, as compared to high, target-distracter similarity. For two feature-dimensions (color and orientation), we observed decreasing RTs with increasing target saliency. Importantly, this pattern was systematically mirrored by the timing, as well as amplitude, of the PCN. This pattern demonstrates that visual saliency is a key determinant of the time it takes for focal-attention to be engaged onto the target item, even when it is just a feature singleton.